Jan 29, 2014

D233&4: Dark teal and grey

I've made the dark teal strip by sewing it in blocks of four, and then sewing them side by side.

It took a long time, but it was more accurate than my first strip.

I wanted to try again with the previous way, which was making a top strip and then a bottom strip and joining them in the middle.  It's a much quicker way to piece and I can order the HSTs before I start.  

My machine needs a service and it's main glitch is feeding the to layer faster than the bottom.  So pinning, to counter this problem, and some slight stretching, to ensure the squareness, seems the order of the day.  This third strip, with a faster, more efficient method and careful matching has made a strip with a good accuracy rate.

Onward to yellow!

D231: Here we go

First colour strip:

Two strips sewn up...

...then sewn together.

Some points are near-perfect in their matching.  Others, not so much.

The next step is to sew it up block by block and see if it's a more consistent system.

Jan 23, 2014

D232: Recipe - Lemony Chicken risotto

So, for some reason, today I felt like trying this out.  Sorry there are no photos, but it was a nice risotto, I promise.

It probably already exists somewhere, but I haven't seen it so here I present what I tried...

  • A few tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 100g or so of pumpkin, diced to half-inch sizes
  • 1 medium zucchini, sliced into quarters and chopped 1cm wide
  • 300g chicken breast, sliced 
  • 150g arborio rice 
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 1 cup of chicken stock*
  • Boiling water
  • Thyme
  • Lemon zest (and/or juice)
  • A handful of grated Parmesan
  • Big handful of baby spinach leaves

To make:
  1. In a large saucepan (pot sized is fine and enamel is excellent), heat the oil and soften the onions.
  2. Add the vegetables and stir, browning them on a few sides.
  3. Add the chicken and stir till it's cooked. 
  4. Add the pine nuts and stir till heated through. (They brown fast, so don't wait too long.)
  5. Add the rice and stir till it's all shiny.
  6. Add the chicken stock and start the timer for 20 minutes. Stir until the stock is almost absorbed.  Over the next 20 mins, add a 1/4-1/2 cup of boiling water and stir each addition until it's absorbed.
  7. Add thyme and lemon zest (and or juice) to taste.
  8. Stir in the parmasean.
  9. Add the spinach leaves before serving.

*Chicken stock can be very salty, especially the cubed kind.  I used half a cup of stock for this, but most people seem to like a stronger flavour than me.  Or maybe I don't tolerate salt as well.

Jan 20, 2014

The drought

I've done close to nothing this week, for two not very good reasons.

The first is the heatwave we've had in Melbourne.  Four days over 40°C in a row, preceded by some almost as hot days kinda beat the house into submission.  Mornings were spent going to sensibly cool places like the toy store (a new train set to abate the boredom), the supermarket (who doesn't love going down the up-escalator?) and appointments.  We even ventured Bub's first zoo visit early Monday morning.

BERNINA 350 PE: The quilting modelThe other reason is shopping. 
I've currently got two, almost three, sewing machines on my radar and I've been researching and comparing them in the time I would normally spend using them.

I've finding it hard to choose between the Bernina 350 PE and the Brother NV-400
The first is around double the price of the second, but with a 10-year warranty (10 or 2 times more than the other). 
The Brother has more stitches to choose from, but there are a lot I'm unlikely to use.  It does have three alphabets, rather than Bernina's two.
But the Bernina is so robust, and strong.  You can see how one could spend a lot of time on this choice.

And then my sister said "Have you considered Husqvarna?..."  So now the Opal 650 has taken my eye.  It's price is helpfully between the other two.

Anyone got any solid advice out there?  


Jan 18, 2014

Tip of the day: Fitting your craft time around your baby time

When they nap, you craft.  

Do the desperate must-do tasks* - chuck on the laundry or whatever is time dependent, do the baby's dishes, feed yourself - then skip the emails, the book, as well as anything you can do while Bub is up (i.e. other housework).

Then start your craft.  Start as soon as you can.  It doesn't matter if it's thinking, planning, organising, doodling, actually putting needle to fibre - start.

And here's the antithesis of that advice:  Don't put off starting because the baby 'might wake soon'.

This hesitation is the Achilles Heel of all Bubbamummas.  It's a furphy, a ruse, a con.  
Of course she might wake soon, but she might not...  What if you knew you had a solid 40mins guaranteed?  You'd start, yes?  Well, pretend you do and begin.  Even if she does wake in 5 mins, which she sometimes will, you'll have made a dint in something. And that's something!

That's the best advice I have about productivity with babies and toddlers.  I'm not sure at what point craft time can realistically overlap with their waking time.  I've done some simple knitting while she's pottered around me.  I've been able to sew while Bub lunches by me in her high chair, but I wouldn't try it when she's running about.

The only other thing that makes a difference to my productivity (besides sleep) is space.  I'm fortunate that Bub shows no interest in my craft stuff that's around the living areas.  It's not laid out, pins exposed with scissors in reach.  However my machine is on the table, out of reach but handy to me, and there are boxes of fabric about and snaplock bags of quilting squares.  But! I would love to have a room I could close behind me where the work actually is laid out, pinned and ready to go.  If you have such a room please stop reading this and go use that glorious box you lucky thing.

Here are some other posts I've enjoyed along the way of this blog... Maybe they have the magic recipe for you.

Check out guest blogger Kathy Stowell, and her post about Sewing with Kids, hosted by Sew Mama Sew.  She follows 6 steps to fit it all in, including using any 5mins you can get every day!

See if Abby Glassenburg's One Touch Rule, over at While She Naps, is for you. 

Or maybe Sara of Sew Sweetness has your style.  I call it 'going hammer & tongs': "Even though I take care of my family during the day and work a part-time job on the weekend, I devote every spare minute and stay up until midnight every night, so that I can work on my bag designs and blog. I have found my calling, and I'll do whatever it takes to make it happen."

*I write this under the premise that you're reasonably rested.  Sleep trumps everything, especially in the early days of mumming.  If you have to choose between sleep and food, have a bowl of cereal and go to bed. For the love of all things cheesy, sleep if you need it.  Can you name the day in under a second? No? Go to bed.  Trust me: I didn't and it was often a mistake.

Jan 8, 2014

D230: Dutch Oven Beef & Everything pasta sauce

I made this up on the spot, but its not especially original.  Just big and yummy.  It's essentially our regular pasta sauce with extra stuff, done in a Dutch oven and then baked a bit.  I think you could also this with just about any tomato-based pasta sauce.

I used:
  • three small onions
  • 6 large button mushrooms
  • about 1.2kg of minced beef
  • 3 medium carrots
  • 2 medium zucchini
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1 red capsicum
  • 1 green capsicum
  • 1 small head of broccoli
  • three cans of crushes tomatoes in thickened sauce
  • half a punnet of 'snacking' tomatoes (mini romas)
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • fresh basil & parsley 
  • After reducing and serving out
  • salt & pepper
To make:
  1. Cut the broccoli into florets.  Halve the little tomatoes.  Dice everything else.
  2. Turn on the oven to 375F/180C
  3. On the stove top, heat olive oil in the base of your Dutch Oven.
  4. Fry onion till softened.
  5. Fry mushrooms.
  6. Add beef and stir till browned.
  7. Add the rest in this order, stirring each through and letting them collect heat:
    1. carrots, zucchini, celery and capsicums;
    2. broccoli (cook/stir till bright green);
    3. cans of tomatoes and tomato paste.
  8. Chuck in the little tomatoes and herbs and season to your liking.
    Other possible seasonings: a slosh of red wine and/or Worcestershire sauce, beef stock or stock cube, a fat pinch of brown sugar.
  9. Bake in the oven for 20-30 mins.  Check for burning tops, but use your judgement if you need it to take longer.  If your sauce is very wet, leave the lid off while in the oven.
Nice big bits of veggies for Bub to find.

Jan 4, 2014

D229: Humans can't do random

From what I understand, it's really hard for humans to do random things, even moreso to organise things randomly. We're just inclined to create patterns and repetition, make links and meaning. And it's hard to clear your head and just...blaaah.

With these colours, I want the appearance of random. But I'm pretty sure if I actually tried to do it randomly (i.e. without planning) I'd end up with an imbalance or pattern in there somewhere. So this is me planning random.

Each pattern has been labeled A, B, C or D and I made a sequence that mixed them up fairly evenly.

A B C D  A D C B  D C B A  C D A B  A D B C  A C B D  B C D A  C A D B
My four-patch chevron 'phrase'.

It's a four-patch phrase: The chevron pattern uses four colours make one 'point' as a set. (I'm calling mine upwards points.)

And then I realised something. Colours will reveal patterns much better than letters! So I drew out what I had and realised it was horribly clustered. I redrew it twice more, using the sequence above in various ways. Then twice more using colours.

It was relatively easy to get a balanced pattern for a short 16-piece strip, but with a longer set it was hard. I instinctively want to have 'one of each' in each point to balance the patterns along the strip, and even wanted an equal number of each pattern in the top and bottom rows. (Yeah, I soooo wanted random.)

However there are only so many ways I can mix up with phrase without creating repetition across the points. I even thought of repeating the short phrase, but that's not random enough for me. The best I can do is evenly space the pattern clusters.

The bottom line of all that is I stumbled back at the starting gate*: creating 'randomness' and evenness is pretty much impossible when you've got four things in a four-part phrase. The real solution for me is to have more patterns. But we're beyond that point. Decisions must be made.
So tip of the day, folks: when planning a 'randomly-coloured' geometric quilt pattern, begin with noting the number of units in your pattern (your tile). The number of colours you want to work with should be a different number.

We have a winner!
My solution for this was to make a eight 4-square units. Each colour appears in each position twice. I shuffled them around until I was happy with the balance. And there is, in the end, a pattern. Can you spot it?

I've already sorted out the patterns in their row/colourway order to see if there's any clumping of plain colours, stripes or spots across the As, Bs, Cs and Ds. So hopefully it will balance vertically as well as horizontally.

Hopefully, when it's all sewn up, it will look like a serendipitous, carefree mess of oh-gee-I-just-threw-it-all-together-a-ha-ha.

*Hub and I agree: there must be a language somewhere that has a word for accidental self-sabotage.

Jan 2, 2014

D228: Slice, squash, sort

All the colours, cut into HSTs, pressed and sorted into colourway order each colourway's A, B, C & D patterns.  On a crappy old towel.

Jan 1, 2014

D227: Happy New Year's Day

After a shoddy and wet start to the day, it turned out pretty well.  Bub and Hub got out in the rain and I had a few moments to myself to stitch some squares together.  I even got a brownie cake done and hopefully I'll cut these puppies into half-triangle squares before the night is done.  It was very rewarding after so many days of not getting into any project work :D